Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Josh writes: "Obviously if you've read my blog (esp No More Covers) you know that I don't think everything in theatre is going great..." You know, I knew as I was getting ready to hit "post and publish" that the "you" in that sentence seemed to be pointing at you, Josh, and I didn't have time to change it before I went off to class. But I did not mean you -- I meant the wider version. No, I know you don't think things are great, and I have been in agreement with you for the most part about the artist and community.

You go on: "It's not that the work is provoking (and I actually think theatre is much tamer than it used to be, there are far less risks in theatre than in other mediums such as music and film) so it's not that the "artists" are driving the audiences away by provoking them - it's simply that a lot of "artists" in question have lost touch with their audiences and the audiences went somewhere else to be moved emotionally, intellectually and spiritually." I'm sure you know from reading previous posts that, again, I am in total agreement with you. I think that the objectification of the audience that is necessary to assume a hostile attitude toward them is much harder if you actually "know" your audience. I think about ministers who occasionally must deliver sermons that take the congregation to task for their actions or behavior. Afterwards, those ministers must stand in the doorway as the congregation leaves, and shake each person's hand and look him or her in the eye. I am told by several acquaintances of mine who are ministers that this has an effect on how they express themselves. It doesn't stop them from saying what needs to be said, but it affects how they say it. We in the theatre have the luxury of cowardice -- we bring the lights down at the end of the show and escape to the dressing room, never having to look anyone in the eye. Even this small thing might make a difference.

As you note, the high price of tickets also has the effect of distancing the artist from the audience. We need a new approach!

6 comments:

Joshua said...

I agree very much with what you wrote at the end, I am a visible figure at most of my productions (when able) and take ownership of it as author - sometimes theatres have a hard time with that (I wrote on that in No More Covers Part Deux) but it's my way of taking responsibility. It's also why I started the Dojo - to give face and forum to my ideas.

Don't forget, however, that some audiences love to be provoked, angered and scared - that's why some of this provocative work exists, because people go to it, it propigates- because there's an audience for it (much like the right-wing hate mongering- political pundits like Hannity ) it's not that it shouldn't happen, it's just that it shouldn't be the sum and total of the whole community, is that what you're saying?

Alison Croggon said...

I think that the objectification of the audience that is necessary to assume a hostile attitude toward them is much harder if you actually "know" your audience. I think about ministers who occasionally must deliver sermons that take the congregation to task for their actions or behavior. Afterwards, those ministers must stand in the doorway as the congregation leaves, and shake each person's hand and look him or her in the eye. I am told by several acquaintances of mine who are ministers that this has an effect on how they express themselves. It doesn't stop them from saying what needs to be said, but it affects how they say it. We in the theatre have the luxury of cowardice -- we bring the lights down at the end of the show and escape to the dressing room, never having to look anyone in the eye. Even this small thing might make a difference.


Ariane Mnouchkine's Theatre de Soleil, where the actors' dressing room is present and open in the "foyer" for anyone to see and perhaps wander in, and Mnouchkine herself is always there and accessible, seems exemplary to me as another way of relating to audience.

Alison Croggon said...

A PS - it also occurs to me that Mnouchkine's show Le Dernier Caravanserail (a huge hit here in Melbourne) offers the kind of theatrcial experience you're asking for here - at once provocative (in how it exposes the political cynicism that permits us to ignore the plight of non-citizens), spiritually profound and complex, and emotionally overwhelming, while creating a sense of a communal, shared experience. And all done with a thoughtful and gorgeous theatrical aesthetic. Certainly one of the most generous theatrical experiences I've had. It was received quite negatively in the States, from what I've read - why is that?

John Branch said...

I agree with everything Scott Walters wrote. (Also, having finally given in to the temptation to visit this blog, I was immediately gratified by what I found.) I wonder if I might raise a related question, which arises from my former experience as a critic. Should critics be willing to meet the people they say those things about? What I tried to find as a critic was a stance in which (to borrow from Scott's wording) I could still write what needed to be written but write it with respect for the theater artists whom I was apt to meet in a bar the next night (and also, for that matter, with respect for the audience). I'm not sure what current practice is, but where I live, in New York, I have the impression that the critics form something of a separate community, who see the show, then betake themselves to a separate place to formulate and issue their opinions.

By the way, regarding one of Alison Croggon's questions, Robert Brustein wrote, for The New Republic, a very powerful critique of the Mnouchkine show she saw. I didn't see it and can say nothing about it myself.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi John

I read Brustein's critique before I saw the show. In part, I respond to it in my own critique (at http://theatrenotes.blogspot.com/2005/10/miaf-le-dernier-caravansrail-odysses.html ) - I think he got it wrong.

I've been a critic (both in mainstream publications here and as a blogger) for many years. At the same time, I am an artist and have many friends and colleagues in the theatre. Sometimes I end up critiquing my friends or people I have worked with. They know, somewhat resignedly, that if anything I am apt to be a little harder on them; I know their talent and expect more of it. As long as I'm up front about my interests (I put relevant disclosures up with the reviews) and clear about where I'm coming from, I don't see a problem. I used to despise the critic's huddle on opening nights; they would gather together and compare notes and then they would all write exactly the same review. Of course it's possble to review with respect for the work and still be dscriminating; it's just a matter of taking the art seriously.

All the best

Alison

Alison Croggon said...

Mea culpa, I stuffed up the link:

Le Dernier Caravanserail